Friday, October 31, 2008

Pumpkin Soup With Cilantro For Kalyn's Last Weekend Herb Blogging

Congratulations, Kalyn!

Regional French cooking classes, taught by chef Alex Begovic, have begun at Eureka's North Coast Co-op's Community Kitchen after a hiatus over the summer and I'm happy to be attending them again. One of the things I know I will always learn from Alex's classes is how to simplify and get the most out of the fewest ingredients.
The first recipe Alex made for us last week was a velvety smooth Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro. Now Cilantro just happens to be my friend and fellow blogger Kalyn's all-time favorite herb. So how could I not feature cilantro as Kalyn wraps up 3 years of being at the helm of her wildly popular blogging event, Weekend Herb Blogging? No way could I not.
The pumpkin soup, which I made following Alex's recipe to the letter, is surprisingly simple, using just three main ingredients - pumpkin (or squash), onions, and cilantro - enhanced by a little sherry, a little dry white wine, salt, pepper. Just before serving, the freshly chopped cilantro is added, which kicks the finished soup into the culinary stratosphere. And while I opted to make a cilantro oil to garnish my soup, I highly recommend using Alex's method of coarsely chopping the cilantro, stems and all, and stirring it into the hot soup just before plating. The pungent, fresh taste of the cilantro compliments the smooth, rich soup and is a treat that should not be missed.
I chose two smallish red kabocha squash called Sunshine at the farmers market last weekend then added one that I grew in my garden this summer, a French heirloom (in photo on the left) called Cinderella. As I learned from Chef Alex, they are easily peeled by cutting off both the stem and blossom ends, creating flat surfaces (rendering them looking much like a wheel of cheese) that can easily be grasped then peeled using a sharp vegetable peeler. Much, much easier and safer than trying to shave them with a knife.

Alex's Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro

12 cups peeled, seeded fresh pumpkin, cut into large pieces
3 medium onions, medium dice
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 cup dry white wine
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Enough cold water to barely cover
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, stems and all
Place a large soup pot over high heat and allow to get hot. Add the oil to the pot then the onions and 1/3 of the salt. Stir and allow to cook until soft and translucent. Lower the heat to prevent burning if necessary.
Add the sherry and white wine and let reduce for a few minutes.
Add the pumpkin, another 1/3 of the salt, some grindings of black pepper, and enough water to barely cover the pumpkin. Bring to a boil and let cook until the pumpkin is just tender but not mushy.
Remove the pot from the heat and puree with an immersion blender.
Add the rest of the salt if needed, a few more grindings of black pepper, and the chopped cilantro.
Serve immediately.
Cook's Notes:
Use your immersion on #6 speed and puree until the soup is completely smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, puree the soup in batches in a food processor, again, buzzing until the soup is completely smooth.
The cilantro should not be finely chopped as if you are making a pesto. Rather, chop it until the leaves and stems are small but still recognizable.
Be sure to visit Kalyn's blog this Sunday for what I'm sure will be the biggest Weekend Herb Blogging yet. And if you want to join in and be a part of history, you've got until 3:00 PM Utah time this Sunday so click here to see how to do it. Send your entries to kalynskitchen (at) comcast (dot) net.
And last but certainly not least, a very important announcement:
Haalo, of Cook (almost) Anything (at least) Once, is taking over the helm of Weekend Herb Blogging. Visit Haalo's post here to read about how you can join in beginning the week of November 3rd. Best of luck to you Haalo, you've got some big shoes to fill but I know you can do it.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Spicy Chickpea Stew With Eggplant, Carrots and Quince

It's not often that I use a recipe from a magazine. I used to, certainly, it's how I learned to cook, but that was a long time ago. I much prefer the creativity of making up my own.

Recently however, as I was waiting in line at the checkout, the photo on the cover of the October issue of Vegetarian Times caught my eye - a tempting baked pumpkin holding a medley of stewed vegetables. Leafing through the magazine, I saw a recipe for chickpea tagine with cinnamon, cumin and carrots. I simply couldn't resist so here you have it: my version, of course, in which I added eggplant, substituted cilantro for the parsley, heaped on more honey, and used a quince. Mostly because I didn't have the currents called for, but also because I knew quince would compliment the rest of the ingredients. I love it when I'm right. The quinces below are this year's harvest from my fickle quince bush. Some years I get a lot, other years I get nothing. This is a good year.
The chickpea stew comes together very quickly. You can have it on the table in less than one hour from start to plating. The combination of spices sing North Africa and you can control the heat by using more or less cayenne pepper. I highly recommend putting a dollop of yogurt on each serving and that you ferret out the last of the summer's cilantro as a finishing touch. Make the dish vegan by using a dairy-free soy yogurt.

Spicy Chickpea Stew with Eggplant, Carrots and Quince
Adapted from the October '08 issue of Vegetarian Times magazine
3 medium eggplants, cubed
3 large carrots, sliced
1 ripe quince (the size of a medium apple), peeled, cored, chopped, yielding 1/2 cup
1 large sweet onion, peeled and chopped medium
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups water
2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
1 teaspoon each ground turmeric, cinnamon, cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon honey, heaping
kosher salt to taste
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Non-fat Greek-style yogurt
olive oil for the pan

Drizzle large cast iron pan or large pot with about 2 teaspoons olive oil and heat over medium-high.
Saute the onions and carrots until softened, add the garlic and quince and saute until golden.

Add the eggplant, spices, honey, chickpeas and water. Stir, cover and simmer until the vegetables are cooked through but still hold their shape.
Season to taste with kosher salt if needed. Serve hot with a dollop of yogurt, sprinkled with the chopped cilantro.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pink Himalayan Herb Salt

Making your own herb salt is easy, fun, and best of all you get to control the indredients. Use your own dried garden herbs or buy organic dried herbs from your local grocers. Showcase a single herb or mix up a number of them to suit your taste.

There are so many great salts on the market these days. My favorites are coarse and fine kosher, Sel de Guerande, Maldon, and a wonderful sel gris with herbs from Zupan's Market in Portland.

I'd never tried pink salt before but after hearing someone rave about it, thought I'd give it a try. I like it! I especially like it mixed with herbs. Both the salt and the herbs used here were purchased at our local Co-op. The herb blend is Frontier's Organic Italian which I often use when my own herbs are in short supply.

Put 1 tablespoon of the salt plus 1 teaspoon of the herbs into a mortar and pestle then grind until the salt is the consistency you desire and the herbs are blended. And that's it. You can use any coarse salt and any combination of herbs you desire to match what you're cooking. The beauty of making your own herb salts is that you can make as little or as much as you want. I'll be posting a few more combinations soon.

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pan Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille

[Ratatouille: from Food Lover's Companion: [ra-tuh-TOO-ee; ra-tuh-TWEE] A popular dish from the French region of Provence that combines eggplant, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, zucchini, garlic and herbs-all simmered in olive oil. The vegetables can vary according to the cook. They can be cooked together, or cooked separately and then combined and heated briefly together. Ratatouille can be served hot, cold or at room temperature, either as a side dish or as an appetizer with bread or crackers.]

That's what came up on AnswersDotcom when I Googled ratatouille before entitling this post. Just to make sure my definition was correct. If you roast the vegetables, then combine them, is it still ratatouille? Turns out the answer is yes. Plus, the vegetables don't have to be swimming in olive oil to be ratatouille. And did you know that the original ratatouille, being a summer dish, didn't include eggplant, a more autumnal vegetable? True.
This dish was made from farmers market produce before the wedding (post coming soon), put together in less than 1 hour as an offering to a potluck party. Less fat, more flavor, kind to the budget; a vegetarian/vegan delight. The croutons are my way of putting the bread/crackers inside the dish instead of on the outside looking in.
Christine's Roasted Eggplant Ratatouille
Serves 8 as a side
2 medium eggplant
4 patty pan squash
4 medium zucchini
2 large red bell peppers, seeded
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped
1 cup large-sized croutons
olive oil
herbed salt*
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a roasting pan with olive oil.
Beginning with the eggplant, slice off the stem and blossom ends then cut lengthwise into 1-inch wide strips. Cut each strip again into 1-inch wide lengthwise strips then finish by cutting crosswise into 1-inch cubes. This will become more apparent as you are cutting. Please forgive me for not providing a photo of the process.
Toss the eggplant cubes into the roasting pan, drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of herb salt, toss to blend then roast in the oven for about 10 minutes or until softened.
While the eggplant is roasting, prepare the rest of the vegetables, cutting the squashes, peppers and onions into cubes to match the eggplant, and chopping the garlic in a smaller, more refined manner.
Drizzle olive oil into a larger roasting pan then add the squashes, peppers, onions and garlic to the pan. Season with the herb salt.
Pull the eggplant out of the oven when it has softened. Set aside.
Put the squash mixture into the oven and roast for 15 to 20 minutes or until softened. Remove from the oven.
Add the eggplant, diced tomatoes and croutons to the squash mixture, toss well, season with more olive oil and herb salt if necessary then put the pan back into the oven for an additional 15 minutes or until all the vegetables have swooned into each other and are sightly caramelized.
Put into a pretty casserole dish and off it goes to the potluck, or on your dinner table.

Cook's Notes:
I use locally produced Brio croutons, made from leftover breads, infused with herbs and goodness.
The herb salt in this dish is one I made using Himalayan pink salt ground with organic dried herbs - post coming soon.
Oh the wedding. Have I got photos for you!

Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ever Spatchcocked A Chicken?

Recently I had the good fortune to be a guest blogger on my friend Paz's blog wherein I demonstrated how to spatchcock then pan-roast a chicken. Intrigued? You can read my post and follow the step-by-step instructions and photos by clicking here. While you're there, check out all the other guest bloggers and their great recipes plus Paz's New York Monday photos and her myriad mouth-watering recipes. You'll be glad you did.

[Ed. note: I finally got around to posting this on my blog. Click here to see it.]
Copyright © 2005-2008, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved